The Practical Mac

Apple's Ulterior Motive

- 2002.05.28 - Tip Jar

Have you seen the latest issues of CIO Magazine and eWeek? If so, I have a trivia question for you. What do these two publications have in common?

The answer is that they both sport an identical ad spanning the two pages immediately inside the front cover. The ad is for a new notebook computer which runs a version of the Unix operating system. The headline of the ad reads, "Sends other Unix boxes to /dev/null." The picture in the center of the ad depicts a new Apple PowerBook G4.

In the middle of the Aqua interface is an open Unix terminal window. The ad carries testimonials from seven divergent people, including David Coursey, Tim O'Reilly and Dr. Michael Cherry, an Associate Professor in the Department of Genetics at Stanford. All of the testimonials extol the joys of running Unix on a Mac. Curiously, only three specifically mention OS X.

For those unfamiliar with either or both of these publications, the target audience of each magazine is slightly different. CIO Magazine bills itself as "The Magazine for Information Executives" and is geared primarily toward (surprise) the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and other executive managers. Typical content includes articles on strategy, budget, return on investment (ROI), and management. These articles are written for the executive who may not have a background or practical knowledge in Information Technology. You won't find many "how-to" articles here.

On the other hand, eWeek's target audience is Information Technology professionals such as IT Managers, Network Engineers and Administrators, and other "hands-on" IT employees. Typical eWeek content includes product reviews, industry news, and network security advice. There will be an occasional overview type article dealing with management, but these are the exception.

By placing the same ad in both of these publications at the same time, Apple is covering all their bases. They are hoping to attract the attention of everyone from the CEO and CIO down to the PC support technician. This is a bold and presumably expensive move - and it is exactly the strategy Apple should be using.

Xserve

The recent introduction of Xserve, Apple's industrial-strength rackmount server, coupled with Unix-based OS X on the desktop, makes Apple a logical player in the enterprise arena.

This is quite a departure for the company which has always portrayed the Mac as a user-friendly consumer computer for "the rest of us." It was only 18 years ago that the Mac was introduced in one of the most memorable television ads of all time, ironically positioned as an anti-establishment platform alternative to "Big Brother" (read: IBM).

While Apple's technology should make it an automatic powerhouse in the enterprise, they must first overcome the practical barrier of acceptance. When one thinks of workhorse servers, Apple is generally not the first company that comes to mind. These ads appear to be the first shots in a war to change that perception.

By targeting executive management with the ad in CIO Magazine, Apple is taking a page right out of Microsoft's playbook. To understand this requires a brief history lesson.

In the late 80s and early 90s, IBM and Microsoft embarked on a joint venture to create an industrial-class network operating system (NOS) in an attempt to break the stranglehold held by Novell NetWare on this market. The two companies eventually parted ways without ever developing the NOS they coveted. IBM took its code base and developed OS/2, a reliable GUI-based NOS that enjoyed modest success, though it never gained a significant market share.

Microsoft emerged with a NOS they dubbed Windows NT. Also a GUI-based NOS, NT was no match for NetWare (or OS/2 for that matter) in terms of reliability, scalability or robustness. Windows NT was generally scorned (and worse) by IT professionals.

Unable to make any headway with a frontal assault, Microsoft decided to come in the back door. They began targeting their marketing directly to top executives, bypassing the rank and file IT professionals (the ones who do the actual work) with whom they had enjoyed little success. Eventually, these executives (again, most with little or no actual IT knowledge) began issuing technology directives to the IT department. These directives were based primarily on information the executives obtained through Microsoft marketing, with little consideration as the what was the better technology.

While Novell continued to allocate money to research and development designed to actually produce a better product, Microsoft poured more and more money into marketing designed merely to convince the consumer it had a better product. Microsoft's plan was successful, and it was able to boost sales of its NOS beyond those of NetWare. If current sales trends continue, Microsoft's installed server base will exceed that of Novell's in a short time.

For better or worse, Microsoft changed forever the way IT companies must market to be successful. Rather than just having to convince the IT guys to buy your product, to be successful a technology company must now also sell the non-technical Executive management.

Apple apparently realizes this, thus the aforementioned ad. This advertisement is certainly not designed to sell more Macs to the already-converted. I have no hard evidence to back this up, but I would estimate that the number of Mac users who read these two publications to be extremely low. No, this ad is designed to break new ground for Apple and represents a bold new direction in its marketing.

Conclusion

I recently read an article reporting coverage of a Unix convention of some sort. While the details escape me, one paragraph is etched in my mind. The reporter noted that it was "alarming" how many attendees this year were carrying iBooks or PowerBooks and using them to run their beloved Unix. One man's alarm is another man's satisfaction. Apple is undeniably making inroads among Unix users. Judging from this ad, Apple apparently believes this is only the beginning. They just may turn out to be right.

Post Script

Those of us less knowledgeable in Unix might wonder what this ad means. What exactly is /dev/null? It is a device to which you can redirect unwanted output. This is a null (non-existent) device represented by the file null in the directory /dev .

USB Printers and the Linksys Wireless Print Server

Last week's article prompted a suggestion, sent in by several readers, that one might be able to use a USB to parallel converter to enable use of USB-only printers with the parallel-only Linksys wireless print server. Most were enthusiastic about the possibility; a few believed it might not work. I have not tried, but if anyone does try it, please let me know how it goes.

Mac Challenge Update

As you read this, the Mac Challenge will be in its final week. I hope to have the results ready to publish in next week's column. The official end of the Challenge and my column deadline are uncomfortably close together, however. If I am not able to present a thorough analysis by press time, the results will appear the following week. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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